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Human rights violation in Ukraine: When government is at war against own citizens

Ukraine has been hit by protests during the last three months.  The protests started on November 21, 2013 following the decision of the government to reject an economic deal with the EU. Started firstly as a demonstration to support the EU aspiration of the majority of Ukrainians, the protests changed its purposes on November 30, 2013 when the riot police brutally beat the peaceful protesters at the Independence Square in Kyiv.

Currently, the demonstrations which are considered to be the most massive in the history of independent Ukraine, have revealed the existence of a large-scale conflict between Ukrainian society and Ukraine as a State. The latter one became a tool of corruption, injustice, terror against its citizens and human rights violations.

Recent developments evidence the massive violations of human rights and brutal treatment of people realising  their right to assembly by the riot police. Today, the power in Ukraine is fully usurped by one person who is the President of Ukraine. After assuming the office in February 2010, he tried to do everything possible and impossible to increase his influence. In September 2010, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine annulled the constitutional reform of Ukraine of 2004 and, consequently, the President got large powers. The result of all further developments that followed 2010 is that currently the power is fully centralized and all law enforcement agencies serve not the people of Ukraine but the only person, President Yanukovych.

The law enforcement bodies became real punitive structures based on the repressive system that gravely breaches the Constitution of Ukraine, national legislation, and international obligations of the country. Enforcement bodies’ personnel use their powers in abusive manner by prosecuting people without any grounds. Also, there exists much evidence of how the personnel of “Berkut” subject people to tortures, inhuman and degrading treatment, kidnapping and illegal deprivation of freedom.

Police with assault riffles near Maidan. Picture from
Police with assault rifles near Maidan. Picture from

Several people were shot dead by the police on January 22, 2014. Serhiy Nihoyan, a 20-year-old citizen of Dnipropetrovk region, of Armenian origin, died as a result of the injuries caused by the buckshot on Hrushevskoho Street. Mykhaylo Zhiznevsky, a 25 year-old citizen of Belarus, died from the gunshot fired straight to his heart. Roman Senik, a 45 year-old man, heavily wounded on January 22, died several days later, despite the efforts of doctors to save his life. It is remarkable that these victims of the regime that lost their lives in the fight for free and independent Ukraine demolish the view proclaimed by the government that only Ukrainian nationalists and extremists from the Western regions of the country participate in the protests.

A number of people were subjected to kidnapping and tortures. Among them is a journalist Tatyana Chornovol, who was brutally beaten on December 25, 2013. She is famous for the series of investigations and publications on the exclusive assets and splendid property of the current president. Igor Lutsenko, a well-known public character and an activist of Maidan, together with Yuri Verbytsky, an activist of Maidan, were kidnapped from the state hospital and taken to the forest near Kyiv where they were subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment as well as tortures. As a consequence, Lutsenko escaped with severe injuries, whereas Verbytsky died. Dmitry Bulatov, a leader of Automaidan, was kidnapped on January 22, 2014 and brutally tortured. He was found only on January 30, in a terrible condition, and according to the testimony, he was subjected to the medieval tortures. Probably, the most illustrative example of how “Berkut” units treat the activists is the tortures of Mikhaylo Havryluk. The personnel disrobed the captive, cut his hair, and put their feet on his head to make some photographs. All this took place in the city center during so-called ceasefire when the negotiations were carried on between the government and the leaders of opposition. As far as it can be seen, only active participants of Maidan are among the victims. No people were prosecuted for the aforementioned crimes. No official statements were made as well.

Nobody expected that the clashes in Kyiv could lead to more deaths and injuries as the new negotiations between the leaders of opposition and the President were taking place. However, on February 18, 2014, the riot police launched a so-called counter-terrorist operation on Maidan Nezalezhnosti. Consequently, in period from February 18 till February 19, at least 26 people were killed, more than 1000 were injured. Despite the fact that on February 19, the truce was announced, the riot police continued to use flash bangs. At the moment of updating this article (February 20, 2014), there was information that at least 11 people were shot by snipers on Maidan Nezalezhnosti,13 – during the gun battle at the ground floor of hotel “Ukraina”, and 8 more – near the barricades on Khreshatyk Street. Some sources report that at least 60 persons were killed in sum.

Still from Radio Svoboda video
Sniper on Instytutska st. near Maidan. Still from Radio Svoboda video

The most horrible is that the law enforcement agencies work in cooperation with so-called “titushky” that are an ad hoc criminal groups consisting of predominantly young sportsmen beating people and destroy their property. The recent evidence (numerous videos and photos of the victims) proves that they are not only controlled and protected by the law enforcement agencies, but also equipped by the latter ones. It is remarkable that in several regions of Ukraine (for instance, in Kharkiv and Odessa regions), all “titushkies” were equipped with similar lumbers and helmets. Usually, the agencies trace the leaders and activists of Maidan and further transmit all the information to “titushky” that carry out violent punishments.

In fact, the government introduced de facto state of emergency. There are a lot of traffic police checkpoints in the city centre, the underground is closed, and the city driveways are blocked. On launching the counter terrorist operation, the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine referred to the Law of Ukraine “On Counter Terrorism”, in particular, on Article 15, where it is expressly stipulated that within the area of ​​counter-terrorist operations the Armed Forces of Ukraine are entitled to use in accordance with the laws of Ukraine weapons and special means, detain and bring to police the persons committing offences and other actions, check the identification documents of the persons concerned, temporarily restrict or prohibit vehicular traffic and pedestrians on streets and roads etc. However, who are terrorists? Here, terrorists are unarmed and unequipped people fighting for basic human liberties, freedom of speech, for the right to live without fear in a free and independent country. Here, terrorists are young students, journalists, office employees, elderly people, pregnant women. In fact, pursuant to the logic of government, all the territory of Ukraine turned out to be an asylum for extremely dangerous terrorists.

All the above mentioned activities were supported by the present government. For instance, during the mass protests by the Regulations of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine Nos.12, 13, 14 dated January 22, 2014, the terror was significantly strengthened through  expanding the list of special tools that can be used against the protesters.

Legislation analysis

Pursuant to Article 14 of the Law “On Police”, the agents of police are entitled to use handcuffs, rubber batons, tear agents, light and diverting act devices, special devices for the forcible opening of buildings and stop of transport, water cannons, armored cars, other special vehicles and dogs in certain cases. However, under paragraph 3 of the same Law the complete list of special tools and rules of their use are approved by the government only after the conclusion of the central executive body responsible for the state policy in the field of health care, and the General Prosecutor of Ukraine. The Regulations  adopted by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine expanded the list of special tools to be used for the protection of the public order in Ukraine and provided for the use of water cannons when the temperature of air is below 0°C.

Having approved the Regulations, the government violated the provisions of the Law of Ukraine “On Police”, in particular, paragraph 4 of Article 12 where it is stipulated that “in case of impossibility to avoid the use of force, it will not exceed the extent necessary for the performance of militia duties and will be limited to minimise the possibility of damage to health to the offenders and other citizens”. It shall be noted that the use of special tools as well as of water cannons under negative air temperature exceeds the extent necessary for the performance of police duties and can be considered as a real threat to life and health of people. In addition, no evidence that the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine had received the conclusions of the Ministry of Health Care and the General Prosecutor of Ukraine was found. All abovementioned examples of activist tortures also violate the provisions of the international conventions.  For instance, under Article 3 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, no one shall be subjected to torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Moreover, under paragraph 15 of the Convention, no derogations from Article 3 even in the time of war or other public emergency that threats the life of the nation are permitted.

During the recent developments in Ukraine, there were many heinous crimes and massive human rights violations that have never been evidenced in the modern history of the independent country. Even in a period from 1989, when Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union and the society was under a strict control of law enforcement agencies, till the proclamation of Ukrainian independence in 1991, the communist regime did not apply so harsh and inhumane methods against the citizens of Ukraine.

Maidan after clashes on February 19th. Picture from
Maidan after clashes on February 19th. Picture from

Ukraine is a victim of ineffective, unprofessional, brutal and cynical power. The power is fully usurped by criminals and murders abusing and neglecting not only the laws but the core principles of humanity and morality. The government is afraid of its own citizens and is trying to protect itself using riot police, law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, “titushkies”, or simply by constructing rock fences1 and putting armoured cars in line in governmental quarter. There are no definite actions from the USA and the EU. They are only capable to “express their deep concern” in the current situation. Ukrainians have understood that only they have true power to build a new State. Today, we have no moral right to loose. We have to fight for sake of people that died fighting for a better place to live in, fighting for our future and chance to live in a free and lawful State.